PROPERTY / Home Truths: July

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THOUGH the price of country retreats has been plunging here, it is worth remembering that a similar house is always likely to cost even less - around 40 per cent - in Ireland. Now, at the height of summer, Irish estate agents are showing their wares to potential buyers from abroad.

Robert Ganley, of Ganley Walters in Dublin, estimates that around 75 per cent of country houses in the pounds 250,000 to pounds 500,000 bracket are bought by people from overseas. 'They are buying a way of life,' he says. 'They like the tremendous sporting facilities and the complete absence of traffic congestion.'

Among the grander residences on the market is the Bellamont Forest estate in County Cavan - one of the best examples of a Palladian villa in the British Isles, with parkland, 55 acres of farmland, 500 acres of lakes, and shooting rights over a further 400 acres. Sotheby's and Jackson-Stopps & McCabe put the price at pounds 690,000.

Less expensive is Loftus Hall, an 18th-century mansion with a private beach in County Wexford. It has 22 bedrooms and 17 bathrooms, and is selling through Ganley Walters for pounds 425,000. The same agents are selling a modern four-bedroom bungalow on Lough Corrib, with its own jetty and four acres, for pounds 170,000.

A SURVEY of houses built in the Eighties shows that it was indeed the decade of the rabbit hutch. The Building Research Establishment (BRE) has interviewed nearly 500 owners of homes built between 1981 and 1988, in different price ranges and regions. Thirty-eight per cent felt their houses were small, and only a third felt they had enough space.

Houses built in the Sixties and Seventies were indeed much larger, due in part to the Parker Morris Report of 1961, which laid down minimum space standards for local authority housing; private developers generally complied too. A dwelling for five was to be no smaller than 81 square metres with about five square metres of storage room. But the Parker Morris standards were abolished at the start of the Eighties.

The BRE notes that 79 per cent of the homes in its survey were up to 42 square metres smaller than the Parker Morris minimum. Private developers are building units which are not only smaller than those of a couple of decades ago, but smaller than council flats of the same period.

ONE OF the foundling houses adopted by the Spitalfields Trust is up for sale. The trust, which started in the late Seventies with sit-ins to prevent the demolition of early Georgian houses in the old silk-weaving quarter of London, is now restoring and selling some of the properties it campaigned to save.

This house, priced at pounds 140,000, is one of a terrace of four built by John Ireland in Mile End Old Town in 1714. 'This is the end of a 15-year saga,' says Ian Lumley, assistant secretary to the trust. 'They were going to be demolished in 1978. Then they were boarded up, sold on, and eventually we bought them in 1989 in a terrible condition. With the help of grants we have rebuilt the spinal wall, reinstated damaged panelling and done other work besides.'

This collector's item is being sold as a rough shell, with basic services connected and concealed pipework for central heating. The hope is that its appeal will be evident only to genuine lovers of the period. Trust covenants are in place to protect the architectural features.

A PICTURE of what house-buying will be like once the computer is as common a household tool as the telephone has been sketched by Professor Peter Dale, of East London Polytechnic, a long-time campaigner for a National Land Information System.

He suggests that most people in future will own personal computers with the power of one of today's mainframes, probably bought for less than pounds 1,000. With these they could gain access to sales particulars supplied and kept up-to-date by estate agents. These would include pictures, views, maps and a thumbnail sketch of the area which they could call up on their screens at home.

'If people like what they see, they will switch to the local authority database and enquire about any local land charges, any information on potentially contaminated land, and details of local taxes and the rateable value of the property. They will then be connected to Her Majesty's Land Registry database and examine the registered title, checking for restrictive covenants and other details of the proprietorship. They will automatically be sent a bill.'

Peter Dale says that this is not just a flight of fancy. 'The databases are already being built and networks are being established.'